Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 5 I Begin Aikido

After my mother’s death, what with my father having to work hard to send five children to elementary, junior, and high schools, all of us had to look after ourselves. I decided where I would go to school, took the entrance exam and passed. In 1952, I entered the ordinary course of Hitotsubashi High School. My mother had died and I had always been compared with my capable older brothers doing nothing myself that would make me stand out. I wanted to change all of that when I entered high school, become someone exciting.

My nickname from elementary school was "Bulldog." If I were given something to do, that’s all I would do, I wouldn’t stop no matter what, so my friends called me "Mr. Bull" Once I set into something, I just wouldn’t let go whether where it was leading was good or bad, it was a handicap of mine, so I resolved to change this aspect of my character and become more easy-going.

At Hitotsubashi High School the students of the two courses of study (ordinary and mechanics) were often at odds with each other. Upper-class students of both sides would eye a first-year student from the opposite class and call him out and bully him. One day, it was my turn. Just doing a little judo drew a crowd. I was thrown around very hard, but I recovered. The next time I waited at the school gate for the bully and threw him around-of course very hard. He kept coming back for more, but about the fifth time he was just amazed at this first-time revolt of a "slave", and then, every time he saw me, he’d run off and I was never bothered again. Mr. Bull showed his true grit.

I kept practicing judo throughout the year at the Kodokan and was able to be promoted. During this time, since there wasn’t a well-developed national judo association, people practicing in the local areas had to come to Tokyo to take their promotion tests at the Kodokan. We (who trained at the Kodokan) would take falls for these people. Since it was during testing, we’d be the partners for two or three people in a row. We wouldn’t be so easily defeated (after all, we had our nidan pride), so the examinees had to try hard to throw us. My specialties were the otoshi, footsweeps and koshinage. My strong build came from that era of judo training. There was little practice on the knees, most of the training was tachiwaza. Foreigners were also practicing then.

Once or twice a year there were matches. When I was a third year student in high school, I was in a different class but one of my fellow students became an Olympic judoka. He also entered Meiji and I practiced with him. Kyuzo Mifune Sensei and others taught us; they were well-known figures in the history of judo.

About then I became friends with a Mr.Danzaki. His father was Tomoaki Danzaki, the head of the Iaido Federation and previously had been a sumo wrestler. It was a famous story that O Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba, had thrown around Ozeki (2nd highest rank in Sumo) Tenryu. From this, I knew about Aikido Hombu Dojo. One day when we were third-year high school students, my friend said, "Aikido’s a really interesting martial art; you want to go check it out?" I hadn’t seen Aikido. What kind of martial art was it? I remember being interested from just hearing its name. At that time, there was a pro-wrestling boom and Bruce Lee was popular, too; anyway, boys leaned toward a tough kind of style of martial art.

I went with him to visit Hombu Dojo in Shinjuku in the cold of 1954. People who had lost their homes in the bombing were still living in the dojo, so it had a lived-in feeling to it. I remember a smell of roast mackerel hanging around.

What struck us right away was the competent young instructor, a scene of practice in techniques we’d never seen before. Later I learned that the instructor was Hiroshi Tada Sensei.

Two of us went to watch, but for me, it was the first time I felt at a loss because the movements compared to judo were so different. It was refreshing to see a person throwing someone with one hand. I could feel the many variations possible when I, who only knew karate and judo, saw we could throw someone attacking from a distance by moving in taking his arm and moving in a circular motion to throw. Compared with today, the people who were practicing Aikido tended to be extraordinary. I don’t think most people knew about Aikido in those days.

Naturally I compared judo and Aikido. I was thinking things like "They throw people one after the other, we can’t do that in judo ...if a person grabs your arm in judo, we’d do something different. How can you so easily topple someone?" I watched for awhile and not saying anything made to go home, feeling confused. Tada Sensei said "You’ve seen Aikido? If you’re interested come on (to practice)!"

Neither Danzaki nor I said anything, but we nodded. My fascination with this new martial art grew and grew.

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